Sunday, September 13, 2009

Vanderbilt Recap

LSU battled the rain and a tough Vanderbilt team in securing a 14 point victory against a quality SEC opponent.  Winning a conference game by double digits is nothing to sneeze at and make no mistake, this was a good win for LSU.  The Tigers jumped out to a 10-0 lead before the rain came, and the game slowed down considerably after that.  What's most encouraging is that the Tigers made big improvements in several areas where improvements were necessary. 

LSU's defense got gashed for 478 yards by Washington.  On Saturday against Vanderbilt, the Tigers allowed just 210.   They allowed just 3.3 yards per play as opposed to 5.8 in Week 1.

The Tiger defense really struggled at making stops on third down against Washington, allowing conversions 11 of 19 times (58%).  Against Vanderbilt, LSU allowed just 4 of 15 (27%). 

LSU struggled badly punting the ball against Washington, but averaged 40 yards per punt on Saturday night, including one for 50 yards. 

Even with LSU making big improvements on the stat sheet, one gets the sense from watching the game that the team can still get a lot better.   Right now, neither the offense or the defense have proven that they can be dominant and become the identity of this football team.  However, each has shown the potential to be very, very good.  That potential has just not been realized to this point. 

The defense played extremely well overall.  They allowed just seven points.  They allowed just one play of over 20 yards.  They also made some big plays.  They intercepted one pass, caused three fumbles, broke up four passes, registered five tackles for loss and sacked the quarterback three times. 

With starting defensive end Pep Levingston out with an injury, a pair of redshirt freshmen took his place.  Chancey Aghayere and Lavar Edwards both played well and each recorded a sack.  Edwards' sack was a monster hit on Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith which caused a fumble.  I thought both guys played well.  Drake Nevis continues to look like LSU's best defensive tackle.  He continues to get into the backfield, and he had two more tackles for loss.  True freshman Josh Downs played well again.  Charles Alexander and Al Woods also played well, and LSU has a nice group of tackles right now. 

The linebackers continue to primarily use four players in Harry Coleman, Jacob Cutrera, Kelvin Shephard, and Perry Riley.  Riley and Coleman are playing very good football right now.  Coleman led the team in tackles on Saturday.  But the coaches can't seem to settle on a middle linebacker.  Shepard will show amazing athleticism and lay a big hit on one play but will then look poor while missing a tackle on the next play.  Cutrera is a bit more reliable, but doesn't quite have the speed that Shephard does.   Thinking out loud, I wonder if Riley could play in the middle with sophomore Ryan Baker taking Riley's weak side position. 

The secondary played a lot better in Week 2.  We saw better tackling though it could still improve.  My only concern here is that the coaching staff still seems undecided on who they want on the field.  At one cornerback position, Chris Hawkins and Jai Eugene are rotating in and out.  You've also got Brandon Taylor, Danny McCray, and Karnell Hatcher rotating at safety.  I think the staff needs to settle on the starters and the rotation before the defense can really reach their potential.  Having depth is a good thing but having clearly defined roles is also very important. 

The offense came out and showed a lot more creativity than they did in Week 1.  We saw a lot of option running plays, we saw Brandon Lafell incorporated into some of those options plays, and we saw Russell Shepard make his college debut.  But we did not see LSU throw the ball down the field very much, especially after the rain started.  The large majority of the passing plays were within 10 yards.  As a result, we saw the defense creep towards the line of scrimmage which made running the ball, especially in the middle of the field, much more difficult.  LSU certainly has the ability to go down the field, but they apparently preferred to play things safe and the rain may have been a concern. 

Jordan Jefferson continues to play well.  Most importantly, he protects the football and makes good decisions, and he has thrown zero interceptions during his four career starts.  That is something I could certainly get used to.  While his accuracy on paper was excellent, completing 20 of 29 passes, he did miss some open receivers.  Jefferson overthrew an open Chris Mitchell on a post route that would have resulted in a touchdown.  He also threw low on a couple of passes, including one to an open Brandon Lafell that would have been a first down.   LSU also ran a lot of option plays, and Jefferson needs to continue to improve in his execution of those plays.  He took some poor angles which didn't leave his running backs much room to maneuver once he made the pitch.  With more experience, I think he'll start hitting those open throws and running a more effective option. 

LSU's offensive line looks to be the biggest question mark on the offense, especially on the interior.   Defenses are getting way too much pressure up the middle on passing plays, and LSU is having trouble running the ball between the tackles.  The Tigers simply have to get better play from T-Bob Hebert, Lyle Hitt, and Josh Dworacyzk or else this offense is not going to click.  With defenses able to get quick pressure on Jefferson, throwing passes down the field is not going to be an option.  The lack of an effective fullback thus far is also preventing LSU from running inside.  As a result, we've seen Keiland Williams have a lot more success than Charles Scott thus far since Williams is asked to run outside a bit more. 

It was great to see RJ Jackson step up and make his case for being LSU's #3 wide receiver.  With just one career reception coming into the game, Jackson caught six passes for 55 yards, including one great catch to set up a field goal right before halftime.  I hope that LSU's coaching staff tries to build on Jackson's good performance and work him into the offense even more. 

It was also great to see Russell Shepard make his debut as a Tiger.  Shep carried the ball three times for 27 yards.  He also caught a pass before fumbling.  From that limited time, anyone in attendance could tell that Shepard is as electric as advertised.  He's going to be awfully special, and I think he's going to make some big plays for LSU this year. 

In some bad news, running back Richard Murphy was injured and is apparently out for the remainder of the season.  Murphy was not seeing a ton of playing time at running back, but it's always a good thing to have depth.  It will be interesting to see if true freshman Mike Ford enters the mix.  In all likelihood, Stevan Ridley will pick up the carries that Murphy was receiving. 

I have to gripe a bit here.  The new video screen in Tiger Stadium looks great.  It's a shame that HALF of the screen is taken up by advertisements during each replay.  In fact, it's completely ridiculous.  I understand that the athletic department has to make money, and they sometimes have to be creative in order to do that.  But it's just lunacy to use half the screen during every replay with advertisements rather than video. 


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